In over five years studying the species, the 10-foot bull shark that Dr. Neil Hammerschlag reeled in at the reefs off the Florida Keys on Sunday, May 27, was the largest he’d seen. The shark weighed an estimated 1,000 pounds and was nearly 8 feet in girth.
According to Dr. Hammerschlag, “I’ve never seen anything like that. For bull sharks, I haven’t tagged one that big after doing a lot of fishing and a lot of research. I’ve put out thousands of lines and that’s the biggest one I’ve seen.”
This isn’t the first time Dr. Hammerschlag has come close to reeling in a predator of that size. However, in past experiences, he says sharks of that size have “severed our line like it was nothing.” His recent battle with the large female shark, which was most likely pregnant, was no different. “This one had straightened the hook with its power,” Dr. Hammerschlag reported. “The hook was about to snap and we almost lost this one, too.”
Briefly taking the shark into captivity alongside the RV Endsley was integral to the research conducted by the University of Miami’s Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, where Dr. Hammerschlag serves as the Director. “Unfortunately, the ocean is invisible to us because everything is hidden underwater,” he explained.
In order to begin learning more about the declining shark population, of which very little is known, the 1,000-pound bull shark was outfitted with an ID tag, like many other sharks in the area. By monitoring the population, scientists are able to understand more about how to develop good conservation policies that maintain a balanced ecosystem.
The Dunlap Program hopes to spread the message of environmental conservation with its work. According to Dr. Hammerschlag, their research is paired with an effort to promote awareness among students, he explained, “We bring out high school students on the boat–over a 1,000 every year– teaching them about environmental conservation and marine biology.” For those aboard the RV Endsley that day, their field trip will no doubt be a memorable one.
Photos courtesy of Emma Smith/ 333productions